FINAL REPORT

"FAST-TRACK" WORKSHOP TO THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR ECOLOGICAL ANALYSIS AND SYNTHESIS


September 19-20, 1996


TITLE OF WORKSHOP:

Establishing a structure for the synthesis and integration of progress in ecosystem science

WORKSHOP CONVENERS:

Michael Pace
Peter Groffman
Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Box AB
Millbrook, NY 12545
Phone: (914) 677-5343
FAX:(914) 677-5976
e-mail: Pace: 73753.2331@compuserve.com
Groffman: capg@vm.marist.edu

GOALS OF THE WORKSHOP:

This workshop was the beginning of a major synthesis effort to evaluate successes, limitations and frontiers in ecosystem science. This effort included several publications, electronic forums and conferences (described below). However, the first priority of this effort was to establish a uniform structure for evaluation. During the workshop, our goal was to discuss several hypotheses about the factors driving developments in ecosystem science and ideas about the key factors determining successes and limitations in this field. We assembled a group of scientists to establish a structure for our effort; to evaluate our hypotheses and develop a unified approach to evaluation of successes, limitations and frontiers. Our plan was then to present our ideas at the NCEAS Symposium on Synthesis in Ecology, held in November 1996, which we felt would be an ideal venue for us to present this structure to a wider community at an early stage of our effort.

KEY SYNTHESIS QUESTION ADDRESSED:

We define "successes" in ecosystem science as bodies of work that have 1) advanced our basic science understanding of ecosystem structure and function and 2) helped in the solution of an environmental problem. This definition of success implies a strong interaction between ecosystem science and environmental problems and it is this interface that we hoped to address in our workshop. We argue that progress in the development of ecology has been strongly driven by the emergence of environmental problems that could not be addressed with existing scientific concepts. Ecosystem ecology emerged in the 1960's in response to biomagnification and aquatic ecosystem decline problems that could not be addressed using population or community-scale approaches. Landscape ecology emerged in the 1970's and 80's in response to the realization that many human activities have environmental effects at scales larger than the ecosystem and that what we really manage in many cases is the variation and interaction of different ecosystem units within a landscape. In the 1980's concern about regional and global scale questions lead to the development of "earth system science", where ecology is integrated with physical sciences (climatology, hydrology). In the 1990's, recognition of the fundamental role that humans play in all ecological problems has led to the emergence of "integrated assessment", where biological, physical and social sciences come together.

WORKSHOP ACTIVITIES

We used a case study approach to describe successes, limitations and frontiers in ecosystem ecology. Prior to the workshop, participants agreed to serve as "lead authors" for different case studies. At the workshop we discussed the hypotheses about interactions between environmental problems and ecosystem science described above, established a unified framework for the approach and structure of the case studies, and review detailed outlines for the case studies prepared by the lead authors.

Participants and home institutions:

Steve Carpenter, University of Wisconsin
Peter Groffman, Institute of Ecosystem Stuides
Jim MacMahon, Utah State University
Michael Pace, Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Phil Robertson, Michigan State University
Val Smith, University of Kansas
Sarah Tjossem, University of Minnesota
Kathleen Weathers, Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Carol Wessman, University of Colorado

PRODUCTS OF THE WORKSHOP